The return of international flights to St. John's International Airport is an important step in shoring up Newfoundland and Labrador's tourism business, says the province's industry association.
Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced Tuesday St. John's will be among the eight Canadian airports where international service can be restored starting November 30.
Though no details have been provided as to which flights will be offered, or when, Brenda O'Reilly, chair of tourism industry association Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador, said the announcement was a sign the battered tourism industry will see better days ahead.
"We need that direct flight to Europe and to the European traveller," she said. "So having the status back at the airport is a sign and a step in the right direction."
Statistics from the provincial Tourism Department show roughly one-fifth of the 500,000 visitors coming to the province annually prior to the pandemic came from another country.
Those travellers, who hail mostly from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Australia, according to a 2016 visitor exit survey done by the department, have more spending power and a bigger appetite for adventure than domestic travellers, O'Reilly said.
"The international traveller spends three times as much as a Canadian traveller," she said. "So it's real money."
The fact that international visitors travel greater distances means they spend more time in the province, O'Reilly said, and therefore more money.
"That's welcome to our economy, because it's new money, and it stays behind in the province," she said.
Outfitters in the province also rely on international travellers, O'Reilly said, since many seek out experiences that are less popular among domestic visitors.
"The really remote products that we have here rely on international travellers," she said.
One adventure tourism company popular among Germans was dramatically affected when international travel closed down, she said.
"We need the non-resident visitors here for the tourism industry in our province to make the tourism industry viable," she said.
Brendan Quinlan, owner of Legend Tours, which operates a tourist shop in downtown St. John's and offers guided group tours, says while direct flights to St. John's are a win-win for the economy overall, the demand from domestic tourists this year has kept his business going well into the fall.
"July 1 struck like a tsunami for those in the tourism business," he said. "There's still quite a number of people here every day."
Quinlan said he's seen more visitors from British Columbia and Alberta, "perhaps more than ever," he said — which he credits to Newfoundland and Labrador weathering the pandemic better than others.
"I hear that time and time again," he said.
Quinlan said reservation trends show the province is in for a serious injection of tourist dollars in the coming months and years.